“Hollywood Producer Harvey Weinstein Wasn’t Fired for Being a Pig, He Was Fired for Being Exposed as One.”
The Weinstein circus is just more proof that the old boys’ club is alive and well. For decades, Hollywood has turned a blind eye on the rainmaking producer, protecting Weinstein from rampant accusations of foul behavior ranging from unwanted sexual advances to exposing himself and masturbating to rape. Other executives and producers knew about him and yet either did nothing or “normalized” his conduct.
Worse still, according to both the New York Times and The New Yorker, Weinstein Company employees were complicit — some knowingly, some obliviously. In fact, one of my closest friends, in her younger years, was producing a movie with Weinstein and received a call from his assistant to meet him at his suite in the Peninsula Hotel at midnight to discuss some notes he had. Bewildered, she questioned his assistant as to why this was necessary. He simply kept insisting that Weinstein wanted her there then, and she best show up. So she did, with her boyfriend in tow.
One of Weinstein’s employees, Lauren O’Connor, told the NYT that she wrote a memo expressly calling out Weinstein’s serial sexual harassment and in a letter to several company executives wrote that, “There is a toxic environment for women at this company.” She further claimed that she was charged by Weinstein with “having casting discussions with aspiring actresses after they had private appointments in his hotel room,” and was convinced that she and other women “were being used to facilitate liaisons with ‘vulnerable women who hope he will get them work.’”
Ever since The New York Times published its banner story, revelations have been pouring in, with 29 women, some of them now quite famous, sharing disturbing accounts of harassment and abuse. Famous actresses and actors are jumping on the bandwagon to state how appalled and disgusted they are.
Oh, but that is in Hollywood where there is a long-standing tradition of “the casting couch,” and starlets trade sex for possible stardom. Weinstein is just a stereotypical example of a powerful director using his ability to make or break a woman’s career to obtain sexual favors. This doesn’t happen in “real life.” Right?
Sexual harassment based on the power imbalance between male bosses and female subordinates permeates every industry. And the same factors at work in Tinseltown serve to cover it up in the workplace. Men protect other men, raise doubts about the female victims’ accusations, or rationalize each other’s behavior in any number of ways, including favorites like “she really wanted it,” “look at how she dresses,” and “she’s constantly flirting and dropping hints about her sexual appetite.” Or more colloquially, slut-shaming. Women keep silent for fear of retaliation, feelings of guilt and humiliation, and concern that their accusations will not be taken seriously.
In Weinstein’s case, as with Fox News founder Roger Ailes and Uber founder Travis Kalanick and SoFi CEO Michael Cagney, it takes a village of women to trigger a reaction of powerful men in an industry. Multiple women have to speak out to embolden others to come forward until the accusations finally reach a critical mass. Then and only then will the men in power take the sexual harassment allegations seriously and address the culprit. As Jonah Goldberg put it in the Los Angeles Times: “Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein wasn’t fired for being a pig, he was fired for being exposed as one.”
Just as Weinstein’s conduct was an “open secret” in Hollywood, here’s the dirty little secret of the business world: It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll be faced with sexual harassment from a colleague, superior, or customer, no matter what career path you follow. Sexual harassment in the workplace can range from commentary about your physical appearance, to demeaning sexual remarks about women in general, to unwanted fondling, to threats that your career will be trashed unless you put out.
According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment remains a widespread problem, affecting women in every kind of workplace setting and at every level of employment. As of 2017, one out of every two women report experiencing some form of sexual harassment at work. Even that ratio is a gross understatement, because a significant share of victims of sexual harassment never report it, out of fear of retaliation, worries that their co-workers will make them feel ashamed, and concern that they will be blamed.
It turns out those concerns are well grounded. A 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review analyzed the sexual harassment policies in place in 98% of U.S. organizations and asked why those policies have been ineffective to the point that sexual harassment continues to be “a persistent and devastating problem in the American workplace.” The findings in the article are as dramatic as they are depressing. The researchers found that sexual harassment is deeply embedded within organizations — even serving an important cultural function for some of them. Those organizational cultures, in turn, are part of a larger national culture that has typically elevated men over women, for example by paying women less regardless of their qualifications or job tenure.
We need to face and address these stark realities. We live in a society where men still dominate and control the workplace, and women are systematically discouraged from coming forward with bona fide accusations of sexual harassment and even rape for fear of the repercussions.
Be scandalized by Harvey Weinstein — but don’t stop there. Be outraged that countless pigs like him continue to debase women sexually. And then step forward to expose the ones you’ve suffered through, or to support the women who have. Only then will we begin to turn the tide of sexual harassment.
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— Linda Smith (@meanestwoman) October 18, 2017